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The little boy was found floating on a tyre in the raging waters off Florida by two cousins taking a fishing trip on Thanksgiving day The boy then spent five months in this house — both haven and fortress — as his Miami relatives fought to prevent him being taken back to his father in Cuba. In the living room of the house, now a museum and shrine to those days, there is a striking statue of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, a black Madonna riding on a boat, holding her mulato Messiah child, with a halo of seaweed.

Legend has it that she appeared to, and rescued, two fishermen and their young slave caught in a storm in the Bay of Nipe off Cuba in Delfin, now 72, tells the story: The world knows what happened: And when he entered the house he saw this statue my father gave me and ran towards it, saying: The battle fought between the child's father back in Cuba, who was supported by Fidel Castro, and his grandfather's brothers in Miami, who were backed by the powerful exiled half of the nation, became a diplomatic tempest.

His eventual return to Cuba was a resounding victory for Fidel Castro. Miami's first exile community fled Cuba when Castro took power after the revolution in The exiles took an immediately combative stance towards the communist regime: They transformed Miami over time, becoming its business and political elite, but as successive generations were born, and other waves of exiles arrived by boat or through immigration accords — with the Cuban population of Miami surpassing half that of Havana itself — the needs of the community changed, as did its relationships to Cuba.

Miami's Cuban leadership took a hard look at itself. Every time they detect a call from Miami, the line drops. But they'll never let us. I could get a visa before but not now — now they say we're agents of the mafia, and won't even let us speak. Before, the family was together — now they have done what they have done and torn us apart.

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  • They need to realise the harm they did. Five days later, on 25 November, two men, cousins Sam Ciancio and Donato Dalrymple, on a fishing trip off Fort Lauderdale saw what they thought was a doll tied to a tyre floating in the water — then realised it was a child. Delfin repeats the tale: The child had seen his mother drown, wanting only to save her son. In Miami the uncles made it clear they would not surrender the boy. Within a matter of days the explosive political potential of a family drama became clear.

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  • A "political consultant", Armando Gutierrez, appointed himself spokesman for the family; politicians hurried to the house for a photo-op and a permanent guard of demonstrators encircled the bungalow in prayer and anger. Politics was one of three fronts on which the family fought: Once Gutierrez and the Cuban American National Foundation —the organised exiles' backbone — decided to turn the boy into a battle between themselves and Havana, Fidel Castro happily took up what was not so much a gauntlet as a gift, mobilising mass demonstrations in support of reuniting the father and child.

    We, the correspondents, camped outside the house following the winds and riptides of what became a tropical hurricane: Finally, months later, the post scriptum: He's working for the city bus service. She's had a baby of her own now.

    The battle fought between the child's father back in Cuba, who was supported by Fidel Castro, and his grandfather's brothers in Miami, who were backed by the powerful exiled half of the nation, became a diplomatic tempest. To date, that group has met three times:

    She doesn't talk about it any more, and her husband certainly doesn't. He was ostracised by the family, despite severe health problems, and, says Delfin, "left Miami". Delfin was different to the others — more complicated than he appeared during the turmoil of those days — as becomes clear during my visits to his house last week.

    He had been a dissident against Castro in the early s. In the closet hangs the school blazer and T-shirts he wore. They're with him all the time, bodyguards and security around the house, which they change every 10 days in case there's a plot hatched.

    The kid must know he's being held against his will. Anyone approaching the house is questioned, photographers chased away. He talked about his "nightmares" in the house in Miami, of how his relatives in Florida had tried to turn him against his father, and how talk of his mother "tormented" him.

    My favourite is the Yohji Soba salad. Our demands were no longer relevant to the relationship with Cuba that people needed.

    He is reported to like table tennis, computers and karate. Now they do it less. And when they do, he looks pressurised. He also claims that Elizabeth Brotons was "always anti-communist, even as a girl", as the Miami version of her break for freedom demands.

    But the evidence suggests that love, rather than liberty or riches, was her driving force. Delfin reveals a telling detail: She had never spoken of going to Havana, let alone America. But they tethered it by the throat, and it ran round until it strangled itself — poor thing. He had everything he could never have in Cuba.

    Delfin leads the way into the back room. But there was another back room, where a story that has never been told was unfolding. In the complex weave of Cuban America, most of the more recent arrivals live in lower-middle class Little Havana or the working-class suburb of Hialeah.

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    But the exile leadership is concentrated among the business elite, and there is a universe of difference between Delfin's house in Little Havana — ghetto blasters booming out of the cars and house next door — and the winding lanes and lawns of Harbour Point on Key Biscayne, lined with mock Venetian mansions and coral walls, the ocean wind whispering through the eyelash leaves of tall royal palms.

    One house is singularly elegant: We had the property all worked out with a sympathetic farming family. We wanted to get rid of all the political baggage — and the justice department. Until then, there had been three defining moments in the exiles' history. The first was the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in , when a unit of exiles called Brigade , trained by the CIA, tried to overthrow Castro's regime but was crushed.

    The second came in , the Mariel boatlift: Both events had been propaganda coups for Castro. Cesar Odio was Miami's city manager when the rafters began arriving.

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    Ordered by Janet Reno to incarcerate them, he joined a team of Miami Cuban leaders who went to the White House — on the day of Bill Clinton's birthday — to broker another way forward. We got the deal and the media to understand that this was all under the radar, nothing written — but we got 2, rafters in. I wanted to do the same, lower the rhetoric and get what we wanted: The central column of Cuban politics in Miami has always been the Cuban American National Foundation, in its heyday the most powerful national lobby in Washington DC apart from Israel's.

    The CANF had nurtured as articles of faith: We made the terrible mistake of turning it into an issue between ourselves and Castro We were unable to understand why the rest of the world didn't get it.

    But when it was all over we conducted a poll: People like myself were a minority.

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  • After us came the 'Mariel' generation, the rafters, people here through immigration accords — who all wanted to help relatives back in Cuba, and travel to see them.

    Then there were young people who had grown up here, and considered themselves Americans. Our demands were no longer relevant to the relationship with Cuba that people needed.

    Obama now offered what had been heresy for half a century: Odio, himself, went to the White House in to press Clinton to implement the very restrictions Obama promised to lift. So all our effort now is to support the opposition inside Cuba. Since our days camping here — journalists outside, Delfin inside — he has planted palms across the lawn where the boy played for the cameras, and has substituted the chicken wire to which prayers and flowers were attached with more robust fencing.

    That he wasn't drowned, that he's alive. When I look back on it, that's my strongest feeling. After all, I'm his uncle. Though our dream, of course, is that one day he will come back.



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